Burton Albion rescued a late but more than deserved point from an often frustrating clash with fellow promotion contenders Torquay United. Albion dominated long periods of the game and struck the woodwork three times before Calvin Zola finally prodded home a rebound for his fourth goal in three games when Zander Diamond headed against the post in the last minute of normal time. Rene Howe's goal twelve minutes in was already somewhat against the run of play and it looked as if the resilient Devon side were going to hang on until Albion struck late on to keep their unbeaten run going.
With three wins on the spin to their name, consistency was the name of the game for the Brewers and with Marcus Holness falling victim to a hamstring injury in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over York City there was only one change required for the trip to Plainmoor. Nathan Stanton was the ready made replacement for his former Rochdale team mate. The substitutes bench had an attacking look about it as ex-Gulls frontman Billy Kee returned to Plainmoor with fellow attackers Justin Richards and Adi Yussuf also on the bench.
The early minutes were spent with both sides tentatively testing each other out without really creating much. Robbie Weir was inches away from connecting with a teasing centre from Matt Paterson before Jacques Maghoma launched a speculative shot over the crossbar in the ninth minute latching onto a towering header from Zander Diamond.
Torquay though, scored from their first real attack in the twelfth minute. Calvin Zola appeared to be fouled as he tussled for the ball in the centre circle but play was allowed to continue and Nathan Craig sped away down the left before delivering a deflected cross that Rene HOWE was able to convert with ease at the far post.
Burton almost provided an immediate response and probably should have equalised in the 16th minute. Damien McCrory was unceremoniously dumped to the ground by Billy Bodin and Albion's former Plymouth left back swung in a teasing low free kick that Diamond fired over the bar.
Albion were even closer to an equaliser on twenty four minutes. A long ball forward allowed Calvin Zola to turn and fire in a shot that Michael Poke could only fumble but the Torquay keeper recovered well to block the follow-up shot from Jack Dyer as Albion pressed.
Zola then saw a header saved by Poke who again fumbled the ball but Aaron Downes was on hand to tidy up and clear the ball.
It was turning into a frustrating half for Zola as he squandered a great chance on 31 minutes with the goal at his mercy. A long throw from McCrory was flicked into the path of the Congolese frontman by his strike partner Paterson but with time to pick his spot he wastefully guided a shot over the crossbar from ten yards.
Albion almost fell victim to a sucker punch as Torquay won a corner moments later and Downes timed his run well to steer a header over the bar.
The Brewers continued to knock on the Torquay defensive door and when Zola was rather crudely pushed to the ground by Brian Saah it gave Jack Dyer the chance to swing in a dangerous free kick that Poke managed to push onto his crossbar with Robbie Weir unable to make anything from the loose ball when it came to him.
Torquay were forced into a change just before the break as Nathan Craig was forced off to be replaced by Danny Stevens, a player who has tended to cause Albion problems in the past.
As the half drew to a close McCrory went into the referee's book for a challenge on Joe Oastler that gave the home side a dangerous free kick just outside the box but Albion saw off the danger and could count themselves somewhat unfortunate to be behind at the break.
Half time: Torquay United 1-0 Burton Albion
Jacques Maghoma had the first chance of the second half as he took control of a free kick awarded when Robbie Weir was brought down twenty five yards out but the free kick was drilled just over the bar.
Torquay finally sprung to life and when Stuart Tomlinson pushed a teasing cross over his crossbar it led to a corner that Brian Saah headed just wide.
On 57 minutes Albion made their first change with Billy Kee brought on to replace Matt Paterson in the attack. The former Gulls man wasted no time in making his presence felt pinging a low free kick beyond the defensive wall but straight into the arms of Poke.
Albion rattled the Torquay woodwork for a second time on the hour mark. Jack Dyer's corner found its way to the back post to Zola and his header remarkably bounced back out off the inside of the far post as Torquay eventually hacked the ball clear.
Albion were furious with referee Tim Robinson when he failed to award a spot kick when Zola was wrestled to the ground on 65 minutes.
Torquay again soaked up Albion pressure and then threatened to hit the Brewers on the break. On seventy minutes Howe surged from his own half onto his own clearance and the ball was eventually played into the path of Kevin Nicholson who forced Tomlinson into his first real save of the afternoon diving to his left to push away a goalbound shot.
Both sides made changes as the game entered the last twenty minutes. The hosts replaced Billy Bodin with Niall Thompson while Cleveland Taylor was brought on to liven up the Brewers attacking threat in place of Jack Dyer. The winger almost made an immediate impact with an angled volley that flew over after Poke had come way out of his goal to half clear on the edge of his box.
Albion's last throw of the dice was Adi Yussuf and he was given the last five minutes to make an impact when he replaced Maghoma.
The equaliser that Albion had threatened and undoubtedly deserved came in the 90th minute. McCrory swung in a cross from the right and this time when Diamond's header came back out off the post ZOLA was in the right place to poke home.
TORQUAY: Poke, Oastler, Nicholson, Downes, Saah, Mansell, Howe, Morris, Bodin (Thompson, 72), Easton, Craig (Stevens, 43). Substitutes: Jarvis, Rice, Macklin, Cruise, MacKenzie.
ALBION: Tomlinson; O'Connor, Diamond, Stanton, McCrory; Dyer (Taylor, 73), Weir, Bell, Maghoma; Zola, Paterson (Kee, 57). Substitutes: Atkins, Corbett, Webster, Taylor, Richards, Yussuf.
Referee: Mr. T.Robinson (West Sussex)
GOALS: Torquay - Howe (12); Albion - Zola (90)
Attendance: 2,438 (145 away)